£4.2m underspend sees calls for investment in more 3G pitches to ‘keep young people busy and off our streets’
A flurry of Welsh Government grants saw Anglesey Council finish the financial year with a significant surplus, prompting calls for the cash to be spent on new infrastructure projects.
Having ended 2020/21 with an underspend of £4.197m, it was acknowledged that the authority’s financial situation is now in a better position than earlier predicted.
Cllr Robin Williams, the portfolio holder for finance, said it was mainly down to unexpected and ‘late in the day’ Welsh Government grants and a phenomenon shared across many local authorities.
The authority’s 151 officer, Marc Jones, told Monday’s Corporate Scrutiny Committee meeting, “We’ve underspent by just over £4m during the year which means our balances have now risen to £11.6m which is a very healthy situation.
“What we don’t know , however, is pressures on council services over this year and next as things open up.
“Some services haven’t been able to operate in full during the lockdown so there’s a possibility that the council will overspend in the year to come and that will come from the reserves of £11.6m.
“We also don’t know what effect this will have on settlements over the years to come, now the Welsh Government is in place for the next five years we hope that some more long term direction will be forthcoming.
“But if Cardiff ends up receiving less money from London then the settlement is likely to be worse than it has been over the past two years and we may have to go back and look for more cuts.
“The healthy balances do give us some time and allows us to potentially use it in the short term to bridge some gaps.
“Yes the situation is healthy but we don’t know what’s around the corner and we need this money in reserve as we face the great unknown.”
The state of the authority’s cash reserves had previously been an issue of concern to the Wales Audit Office, finding them to be “dangerously low” in 2019 but having subsequently recovered to acceptable levels.
But the leader of the opposition, Cllr Bryan Owen, said that the authority should use some of the reserves to fund infrastructure projects.
Following the installation of artificial 3G sports pitches in Llangefni and Menai Bridge, with plans in the pipeline for another in Holyhead, Cllr Owen pressed for another two elsewhere on the island.
“From what I see here we have over 10% of our overall budget now in reserve, continually asking departments to make savings yet this is sitting here.
“I can’t see how we’ll get a decent settlement from Cardiff when we have such a sum in reserve, they’ll look at our balances and decide we don’t need as much.
“We know of several schemes, in Amlwch they’re desperate for a 3G pitch, its the same in Llanfairpwll, what are we doing to help them?
“You could take a million out and share it to ensure two 3G pitches, keeping young people busy and off our streets and so on.
“We really need to look at spending some of this, in reality we could have gotten away with not increasing the council tax and would still have ended up with £10m of reserves.”
But Cllr Williams pointed out that Anglesey’s tax rise was the second lowest in Wales and said there would be capital investment while also urging the need for caution.
The next budget setting process, he added, would offer a chance to earmark specific projects over the coming years.
By Gareth Williams – Local Democracy Reporter
Spotted something? Got a story? Send a Facebook Message | A direct message on Twitter | Email email@example.com