Agenda item

Assurance Reports - Balance Sheet Review

To consider the report.


The Audit Committee reviewed the Balance Sheet Review and to receive a progress report at the next Audit Committee meeting – 28 March 2024.


The Audit Committee received a report from the Executive Director – Resources and Corporate Services, Jason Vaughan.


The Executive Director Resources and Corporate Services introduced the report, highlighting: the action to undertake a financial sustainability and resilience review of Somerset Council in the light of 2022/23 statement of accounts for the five previous Councils, the governance and financial risks and that the review had been undertaken independently, and introduced a Consultant who is assisting the Council, Peter Robinson, to present the report.


The Executive Director and consultant presented the report highlighting: that overall the review found that the new Council was relatively well placed as at 1 April 2023, and summarised the significant factors contributing to the financial emergency and comparisons with other Councils; that the report identified a number of issues for the Council to consider, summarising the recommended 27 areas of action, with some actions addressed and in progress; that a report setting out progress on the 27 actions to be presented to the Audit Committee for consideration on 28 March 2024; the importance of looking forward as a new Council and being financially resilient;  and the recognition of the increased workload to sign off legacy Council accounts.


The Committee recognised and acknowledged the increased workload and amount of work being undertaken across the finance team and the Audit Committee.


The Audit Committee asked a number of questions and made a number of comments which were responded to at the meeting, as follows:


        The Committee welcomed the report and opportunity to aid Councillors to be more informed of Somerset Council’s inherited issues and the mitigating actions to address these.

        The large amount of content and possible requirement for a further meeting to discuss areas of concern. The Executive Director Resources and Corporate Services undertook to provide a further update at the Audit Committee meeting on 28 March 2024, including the governance route of the actions and recommendations, and his availability to answer any questions and queries in more detail post meeting.

        The analysis of revenue income, the low level of fees and charges with comparator Councils and the potential opportunities moving forward.

        The 5% general fund working balances and the separation in the report of reserves held for partners.

        Net operating losses and investment properties debt charges.


The Chair invited the Lead Member for Economic Development, Planning and Assets, Councillor Ros Wyke, to comment on the implementation and ongoing work of the Council’s asset disposal strategy process and programme of disposals.


The Lead Member for Economic Development, Planning and Assets advised the Audit Committee of the work being undertaken following the approval of the  asset disposal strategy pre vesting day, highlighting: the Executive Sub Committee work, the constraints of a difficult property market and the careful work to move at pace with external partners,  the work with unions and staff, an update on three properties in West Somerset and Bridgwater House; the Government one public estate approach and the work with colleagues taking place and evolving issue of the new Council.


Following consideration of the officer report, appendices and discussion, the Audit Committee reviewed the Balance Sheet Review and to

receive a progress report at the next Audit Committee meeting – 28

March 2024.

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