Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

‘What’s with the column of zeroes?’ – Bemused Highland councillors query ‘evolution’ in budget reporting

Highland councillors share a joke during the housing committee meeting.

It’s the stuff of homeowners’ dreams – a scenario where your budget is based on the amount you end up spending.

Yet when this scenario is presented at a Highland Council meeting, it raises some eyebrows.

This was the case at Thursday’s housing and property committee, as opposition councillors grappled with figures presented in the capital expenditure report.

Budget ninja baffled

In the capital monitoring report, the section detailing overspend or underspend contained only a column of zeroes.

Councillor Derek Louden – known for his eye for figures – was visibly bemused by the data.

Mr Louden said: “In terms of the rows, I’m really happy – that part of the spreadsheet I commend you for. In terms of the columns, I found this a little bit more challenging.

“There’s a universality about the outturn which tends to suggest there’s no overspend and no underspend on any project on the list. I tried to figure out how this can come about, and then spotted in the third column the ‘reprofiled budget.’

“The budget has been reprofiled to bear a similarity to the actual spend. What concerns me about this, is if we’re not told where there are overspends or underspends it’s difficult for the committee to do a job of monitoring.”

When will we get the numbers back?

Chairman Ben Thompson acknowledged that the report was going through a process of evolution, and said that officers had shaped it in response to members’ feedback.

Leader of the opposition Raymond Bremner replied: “When did this evolution take place, where all the zeroes come into the picture, and when will we go back to the pre-evolution stage so we do actually know what the original budget was?”

There were laughs all round, as the chairman and officers sought to respond.

Finance manager Mike Mitchell took the hit, saying “I’ll put my hand up, I came up with this format.”

Mr Mitchell explained that council agreed in December 2020 that the housing capital budget should be reprofiled to take account of the costs of the pandemic, delays and project slippage.

Zero to hero

Mr Mitchell added that large-scale capital programmes cover several years, and variance in spend is difficult to capture in reports.

He reassured the committee that future reports will include colour-coded progress indicators and paragraphs detailing slippage on specific projects.

“Councillor Bremner will no doubt come back now and have a dig at me,” he added.

Mr Bremner said that it was important to put the explanation in the public domain, and expressed some reservations about lengthy explanatory paragraphs coming to future committees.

However, members broadly welcomed the new reporting format and – perhaps with tongue-in-cheek – said they look forward to seeing the next stage of this budget evolution.

Already a subscriber? Sign in