When is a Section 114 ever the right answer? I have always maintained that if we have to issue a s114 notice, we have failed.
I have only ever been near to issuing a s114 once. I was new to the council and within a couple of months, realised that its financial forecast was minus £4m of reserves in October of the financial year. In consultation with the chief executive, we sought counsel’s opinion on whether issuing a s114 notice to the leader of the council was the only option. If it was, what were the consequences?
The consequences are terrible. In effect, the lead members, who are the people charged with decision-making, are removed from that responsibility as it relates to spending money, and the s151 takes control of spend freeze and budget mitigation instructions to the organisation.
If a s151 officer has had to resort to this, their ability to have reasonable conversations with the lead politicians must have broken down to such an extent that there is nowhere else to go.
When I found myself in a position where the finances of the council had seriously deteriorated, my first action was to seek advice from treasurers’ societies, from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy and from fellow finance colleagues. Their advice was to gather compelling evidence of the issue and to develop a plan to resolve the budget gap.
On that advice, I sought counsel’s opinion on the legal position, developed a suite of financial forecasts and an intervention plan to bring the finances back in line. Engaging the members was key. The chief executive and I discussed the plan with all the senior directors and they, in turn, talked their portfolio holders through the plan. The leader of the council announced an in-year spend reduction plan without the need for a s114.
My experience tells me a s114 is only necessary when there is no other option and with support, there is always another option, thereby maintaining control where it should sit, with the members.
Tracie Langley is interim chief operating officer and Section 151 officer at Cornwall Council