Revealed – how far away your council is from empty reserves if current spending continues
PUBLISHED: 05:33 22 February 2019 | UPDATED: 10:11 22 February 2019
Suffolk County Council’s entire reserves will be eradicated in less than a decade if current levels of overspend continue, it has emerged.
Figures published by the county council in September revealed it was on course to overspend by £8.6m, meaning further cutbacks than planned were needed.
That figure had dropped by £1.1m in October, understood to have come from back office savings, with next week’s cabinet meeting reports revealing a final expected overspend of £5.9m.
The cabinet confirmed that would be covered from reserves.
Conservative councillor Richard Smith, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for finance and assets, said: “We have been able to reduce our forecast overspend by £1.6m from what was reported in quarter two, by containing spending pressures where possible and some areas of underspend have been identified. Any overspend at the year-end will need to be met from the council’s general reserves.
“The council continues to face considerable challenges in the management of the budget, much like every other council in the country however, firm action is being taken to manage the financial pressures and to continue to develop our strategies to meet the long-term challenges that face us as a council.
“We will continue to focus our spending on those most vulnerable. With an increase in our budget by £16m for 2019/20, we have allocated extra funding to our priority areas of children’s services and adult care.”
Current levels of unallocated reserves stand at just over £53m, meaning that if the current overspend continues, the council’s reserves will be empty within nine years.
It has led to fresh concerns that more cutbacks loom, as Mr Smith has said that using reserves could not continue.
Councillor Sarah Adams, leader of the opposition Labour group said: “Let’s look at the Tory record at Suffolk County Council – they have increased taxes by the highest rate possible, they have continued to slash our public services and now they have miserably failed to balance the books.
“It seems incredible that the same cabinet members who handed themselves an 11% wage increase a year and a half ago, continue to be rewarded for their relentless failure.
“You wouldn’t run a business like this so why are Tories running our public services in this way?
“All the while, our residents will pay the price for the Tory incompetence which is pushing Suffolk County Council further towards the red.”
Andrew Stringer, leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, added: “Whilst it is always good to hear that the council’s overspend has reduced, it is quite galling to receive this announcement just days after a budget filled with harmful cuts was agreed.
“That budget was justified on the basis of the ‘scary’ overspends we were predicting for this year – raising the question, are all of those cuts really necessary or could they be avoided?
“I do also think we need to look carefully at where these savings are happening.
“One of the reasons our overspend has reduced is that we’re simply not filling vacancies, especially within the adult and social care directorate.
“That’s a dangerous false economy, because in the long run not having enough staff will mean that the job does not get done – and it’ll be our vulnerable residents that suffer the consequences.”