Protecting the public purse

Striking a balance: Improving councils’ decision making on reserves

Striking a balance report cover‘Striking a balance’ presents the Audit Commission’s findings from research undertaken during 2012 on the level of reserves that councils hold and on the decisions councils make relating to them.

Reserves are an essential part of good financial management. They help councils cope with unpredictable financial pressures and plan for their future spending commitments. The level, purpose and planned use of reserves are important factors for elected members and council officers to consider in developing medium-term financial plans and setting annual budgets.

The report encourages English councils to focus more attention on the £12.9 billion set aside in their reserves – the equivalent of nearly a third of their net spending on services in 2011/12. While it finds that councils routinely consider reserves as part of their annual budget setting, the report calls for officers tooffer elected members clearer and more comprehensive advice, equipping them to make better-informed decisions. It also calls for greater clarity from councils about the reasons for holding reserves.

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Striking a balance: Improving councils’ decision making on reserves