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New guidance to dismiss myths about budget-setting and scrutiny

New guidance to improve local authorities’ budget-making processes and financial scrutiny has been launched in Cardiff.

The Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS) and Grant Thornton said the ‘Raising the Stakes: financial scrutiny in challenging times’ guidance will offer practical advice to Welsh councillors and officers about the value of scrutiny and how it can improve financial planning and management.

Jessica Crowe, executive director of the CfPS, said: “The guide is a starting point – there is no universal template which can be applied to all councils. However, it provides a wealth of useful advice and top tips as to the kinds of questions councillors need to ask to scrutinise their council’s budget.

“In the current economic climate, councillors have difficult choices to make when setting their budgets and this is unlikely to get any easier in the foreseeable future. We know from our Annual Surveys of Scrutiny in Local Government that budget scrutiny is felt to be one of the most difficult responsibilities that members have, and we hope that this guide will be a useful tool.”

Welsh local government minister Lesley Griffiths AM delivered the keynote opening address at the launch event on Thursday. It featured case studies from Bridgend County Borough Council, Cardiff Council and Carmarthenshire County Council.

Griffiths said: “I very much welcome the publication of this practical guidance. I recognise the challenges local authorities will face in setting their budgets for 2015-2016 and beyond. This guidance will help them to do this, and will help to dismiss the myth of budgets and financial arrangements being only a matter for councils’ audit committees; it is not just about adding up figures and making them balance.

“It is about councils’ strategies and ambitions for their areas; it is about improving performance and delivering effective public engagement and participation in the decision-making process. This is something all councillors must involve themselves in.”

Barrie Morris, director at Grant Thornton, said: “Effective scrutiny will be crucial during the financial planning and budget setting process, as councils ask themselves difficult questions about which services to offer in future and whether historic means of delivering those services are still appropriate.”

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