Sligo County Council’s Audit of Accounts confirms a €2.11m revenue surplus for 2016 and comes just as initial figures for 2017 indicate a further surplus in the region of €1.6m.
Council Reports €4.5m Surplus in Last Three Years
When added to the earlier 2015 surplus, it brings the total for the last three-years to just under €4.5m, a fact that has been recognised by the Chairman of the Council’s Audit Committee, Michael Farrell, who commended the staff and Elected Members ‘on the major improvement in Sligo County Council’s finances’.
‘This is in stark contrast to annual revenue deficits of previous years’, said Marie Whelan, Head of Finance, who explains the turn-around was enabled by efficiencies, reduction in the Council’s cost base and improved income collection. ‘It is a welcome change to the annual deficits of €2-3m of previous years and the exceptional €8.5m deficit in 2013’, she says, adding that ‘income from Housing Rents has increased as has Housing Loans while the momentum in Commercial Rates collection has been maintained despite the major Rates Revaluation process undertaken in 2017’.
But there are other factors. Through good financial management, €100,000 was saved in the cost of funds in 2016 with a further €50,000 in 2017. These and other efficiencies combined with strict budgetary control and discipline has facilitated improved cash flow thus allowing the Council to operate well within the overdraft limit in comparison to previous years.
Yet there is a long way to go. Financial discipline has to be maintained and 2018 will bring additional challenges. The Council is returning to the repayment of principal and interest on its capital loans at a cost of €.5m in 2018. Recruitment has started again following the most severe staff cutbacks of any local authority when by September 2016 it had reduced its’ staff by 230 (37%) and Brexit brings its’ own as yet undefined challenges that will last well into the future.
But it also brings opportunities as Marie Whelan explains. ‘The accelerated Housing Capital programme in the coming years will allow us both provide much needed social housing while at the same time recoup our costs on some of the land acquisition loans, thus reducing our exposure on the Capital account.’
The Cathaoirleach, Councillor Seamus Kilgannon, said that despite the severe reduction in staff and resources, the Council continues to deliver the optimum service. He said that because of the commitment of both Members and staff, it was very heartening in December to be able to point to an investment of over €150m in capital infrastructure for Sligo. ‘Since then, we have been notified of a further €17m investment in the Roads allocation for 2018, €12m of which is for major pavement overlay projects’, he said.
However Ciarán Hayes, Chief Executive, was looking to the future. ‘Now that we have greater control of the finances, we should not be held captive by our past’, he said. While not minimising the financial challenges in the short and medium term, he explained the priority for Sligo City is to grow to 40,000 by 2040. ‘It must’, he said, ‘position itself as a smart city in order to compete in the digital era, continue to be innovative in our collaborations in order to promote economic development, maximise the potential of tourism, adapt to the challenges and opportunities posed by climate change and continue to invest in infrastructure in order to deal with the infrastructural deficit and attract inward investment.’
‘Finance’, he concludes, ‘will clearly be important in achieving the vision for Sligo, but the progress of recent years is a testament to the competence and innovation within Sligo County Council. The issue of finances and resources should not hold us back from advancing these critical objectives for Sligo.’