Suffolk County Council reveals £8.6m projected overspend this year as further cutbacks expected to hit county
PUBLISHED: 16:37 03 September 2018 | UPDATED: 17:46 03 September 2018
All services will be examined for cuts at Suffolk County Council as new figures predict the authority is on course for an £8.6million overspend this year.
No area will be immune say council chiefs as County Hall this afternoon published its quarterly budget report which forecasts an overspend of £8.6m by the end of the year based on current spend – around 1.7% of its £501m annual budget.
Finance bosses said increasing costs and rising demand in children and young people’s services accounted for around £5m of the projected overspend, but admitted that for the first time all areas of council business are overspending.
Unallocated reserves are currently at £51.1m, according to the latest data.
Councillor Richard Smith, cabinet member for finance and assets, said: “I think most people have some awareness that local councils are facing enormous financial challenges, but it’s figures like these that bring the scale of the issue into sharp focus.
“We have seen Northamptonshire County Council effectively go bust in recent months. I want to reassure people that Suffolk is not in that position, but that does not mean we can be complacent either.
“There are going to be some tough calls to make in the weeks and months ahead, but they are calls we are going to have to make to keep Suffolk County Council within budget. At all times we will work to protect the most vulnerable people that rely on us for support and care.
“I hope that residents will understand the scale of the challenge we are facing, both now and in future years. It is very real and very serious indeed. In return, my pledge is that we will do everything within our power to manage public money well and protect essential council services.”
Mr Smith said that he hoped the £8.6m will be a top end figure, and would work to try and bring that overspend down over the next seven months.
He added: “All local authorities need to learn from what has happened in Northhamptonshire.
“We are not in that position but one day we could be.
“Everything is there [for consideration] – we have statutory services which we have to provide but it’s the way we deliver these we have some control over. But this gets more limited every year.”
Among some of the measures being looked at are a review of major projects, line-by-line reviews of budgets and assessment of its contracts to see where further savings can be made.
It is not yet clear which specific areas may face the first cutbacks, but it is understood the council is already looking at next year’s budget for further savings.
This time last year, the council forecast an overspend of £7.8m, which was eventually reduced to £5.2m by the end of the financial year.
Mr Smith added that the council is continuing to lobby central government for fairer funding.
Labour Group reaction
Sarah Adams, Labour group leader said: “The financial problems for the county council are compounded by the Conservatives’ ideologically driven cuts agenda which has stunted growth in Suffolk.
“Since 2009, they have taken a regressive and economically illiterate approach to the council’s finances.
“They have failed to invest in the future of public services and we are now reaping the consequences of stifled economic growth.
“By its own admission the council are now going to target the most vulnerable in our society, specifically children and adults in care.
“And at the same time this council wastes unidentified amounts of money on vanity projects such as the Upper Orwell Crossing and consultants from Respublica to advise on a unitary authority bid that could never happen.
“Labour councils across the country have done things differently to protect public services, so the Tories should hang their head in shame as they look over the permanent damage they have caused to our county.”
Lib Dem, Green and Independent Group reaction
Councillor Andrew Stringer, leader of the Lib Dem, Green and Independent Group said: “We are seriously concerned that, once again, the council is struggling to remain in budget.
“This is a recurring pattern, here in Suffolk and across the country, and clearly highlights the lack of support for local authorities from central government.
“We keep hearing the mantra that ‘the vulnerable will be protected’, but ultimately we have to recognise that the number of vulnerable and elderly residents in our society is increasing, and sooner or later we are going to desperately need more funding and support.
“It is deeply depressing that our Conservative council is finding it has nowhere to turn, despite a Conservative government being in power and a large number of Conservative MPs in Suffolk.
“However, not only are they struggling to make savings, but they are also failing to come up with any innovate ways to generate income.
“One such project is being abandoned after two years without making a single penny for the county council.
“That is a complete waste of our time, money and effort.
“We need to be seriously thinking about new ways of working within the council.”