Information on Eastbourne council’s finances to be more ‘user friendly’

Cllr: Robert Smart SUS-180401-143842001
Cllr: Robert Smart SUS-180401-143842001

Eastbourne Borough Council officers have committed to making official information more ‘user friendly’ at a special meeting this week.

At the council’s scrutiny committee on Thursday (January 17), councillors heard how officers are looking at the way financial information is presented in council reports, with the aim of making it easier to understand.

The commitment came after councillors raised concerns about the way in which information is laid out within the authority’s quarterly performance monitoring reports.

The special meeting had been scheduled after councillors criticised the non-attendance of finance officers at a December meeting where the committee had been set to discuss the council’s financial performance.

Robert Smart (Con. – Meads) said: “I think an indication of the difficulty for councillors to understand what is going on is demonstrated in the profile budget.

“I think a member of the public may be rather surprised to see a full year budget for service delivery is £5.18m but the profile budget for six months is £27m.

“I recognise that is potentially how the council runs its affairs but it is pretty uninformative to the councillors who don’t have an understanding of how the profile budget is worked.

“The issue is probably one of presentation, but it really does not help.”

In response to these concerns, the council’s chief finance officer Homira Javadi agreed improvements are needed to make financial information more ‘user friendly’.

She said: “You are absolutely right. It is a bit confusing. I will address that.

“As part of our improvement plan, we are going to be making sure that some of the questions you have raised in the past about transactions with other partners – such as Lewes District Council and Eastbourne Homes – are reflected in a more transparent way.”

It was also noted that the majority of the £27m mentioned by Cllr Smart was due to the housing benefit payments for social housing and temporary accommodation.

A large proportion of this money would be claimed back from central government before the end of the financial year, councillors heard.

Cllr Smart also called on officers to provide more detailed reports on the council’s income from renting properties, which he said he had been requesting since February.

Ms Javadi confirmed the analysis would be sent through and that officers would be working to improve the clarity of reporting.

She cautioned, however, that this was a ‘work in progress’ for the council and invited committee members to share their feedback as the improvement plan goes on.