England & Wales Finance

Seminar: Reviewing the ‘Big 3’ financial reports effectively

Every council prepares an annual budget report, regular monitoring reports and a set of financial statements for elected members and officers. These “big three” reports contain a wealth of information on the council’s finance. However, their length and complexity can make them daunting for elected members, particularly those without a financial background.

This workshop is designed to enable you to better engage with, and effectively question these “big three” documents. The overall objective of the session is to demystify the way the council plans, manages and reports its spending and income and to enable councillors to more effectively engage with council finances.

Delegates are encouraged to bring along copies of their council’s “big three” documents and they will have an opportunity to work through these during the workshop. Plenty of time will be provided for participants to ask questions.

By the end of the session participants will be able to:

  • understand the role of the elected member in the council’s financial planning and management processes
  • understand how to read and review their Council’s “big three” financial documents
  • confront and overcome the barriers of jargon and technicality that make getting to grips with these documents so difficult.


10.00-10:30Registration & Refreshments
10:30-10:40Welcome, Introductions and Objective Setting

  • Setting personal objectives for the seminar
  • The role of elected members in the financial governance of the council
10:40-11:40Workshop: Getting to grips with the Council’s Financial Plans

  • The financial planning process explained
  • How to review the “Annual Budget” Full Council report
    • The Medium Term Financial Strategy
    • The Annual Revenue Budget
    • The Capital Programme
    • The Treasury Management Policy
11:50-12:50Workshop: Getting to grips with the Council’s Budgetary Control

  • The budget management process explained
  • Reviewing forecasts and variances
  • Linking budget management with service performance
13:35-13:50The Role of the Annual Financial Statements

  • Why and how are they prepared?
  • The legal and accounting background
  • The role of elected members
  • The external auditor’s role and viewpoint
13:50-14:50Workshop: Your Council’s Annual Financial Statements

  • How to navigate the Financial Statements
  • Key elements reviewed and explained
  • Where to locate useful financial information within the statements
14:50-15:00Summing up, evaluation


Who should attend?

The seminar is aimed at both new and experienced local authority members, who understand the basics of local government finance and financial management – and learn how to interrogate the big 3 reports local authorities produced annually.  The seminar will also be relevant to local authority officers who are involved in the budget process, as well as local government partners.


Ian Fifield, Ian is a CIPFA qualified accountant with over 20 years’ experience in designing and delivering financial management training for local authorities and other public service organisations. Ian’s training experience includes: designing training seminars for finance professionals, service managers and elected members. He has co-authored the Centre for Public Scrutiny publications On the Money, considering effective financial and budget scrutiny methods and also Treasure Your Assets, considering local government invest and borrowing activities.

Alan Waters (Cllr), Leader of the Council, Norwich City Council and Learning and Development Manager, LGIU. Alan has extensive experience in dealing with the practical political issues that face elected members around budgets. Alan has delivered a wide range of training and development programmes for the LGIU. He is a Member Peer with the Local Government Group and has been a trainer for the National Councillor Mentoring Programme.