Budget blues leaves big shortfall

PUBLISHED: 22:07 14 November 2001 | UPDATED: 10:50 03 March 2010

TAXPAYERS could be left to pick up a £4m bill as Suffolk's budgets for vital services like caring for the elderly and education have plunged further into the red.

TAXPAYERS could be left to pick up a £4m bill as Suffolk's budgets for vital services like caring for the elderly and education have plunged further into the red.

Social Services was already predicting a £2 million cash deficit for the current financial year back in August, but the latest figures for the department suggest this has now increased, with the rise being blamed on costs escalating higher than anticipated.

A report going before the council's executive committee tomorrow gives the reasons behind the budget shortfall as the extra demand on the department from the areas of child care, home care and learning disabilities.

The report, written by council officer Michael More, says: "Executive committee meeting of September 13, 2001, considered Social Care's budget position and agreed it would support additional expenditure of between £2.4million and £2.8million.

"It is now clear that the upper estimate will be required and that demand pressures on the service have continued to grow.

"Current estimates indicate that there will be a further commitment of £660,000 and that the original budget for social care will be exceeded by £3.5 million."

Away from social services, spending on education is also likely to see a shortfall according to the report, with the Home to School budget to be exceeded by £500,000.

With more than four months of the financial year still remaining it is also feared the overall shortfall at County Hall could increase further if the cost of providing services continues to rise.

The report says: "Indications already suggested that the Home to School transport budget could be exceeded by some £400,000, a position likely to worsen once the additional demands and price changes from the start of the academic year in September were known.

"The strategies employed to contain the pressures have limited these additional costs, however an overspending of £500,000 is now anticipated."

Ray Nowak, the portfolio holder for finance, physical and human resources, described trying to set the budget for social services as a "guessing game" because the council never knew what the demand on the department would be.

"Suffolk County Council has to provide the services and it is still a guessing game as to what till be required in one given year," he said.

"Neighbouring authorities have a higher over spend than us and it is a problem nationwide."

He added that there was no guarantee that the social services bill would not be higher by the end of the financial year.

"It could get worse but one hopes that it will not. We will do all we can to limit the expenditure but we will not cease to make sure we provide the proper services for the vulnerable people of Suffolk."

Conservative group leader at the council, Sue Sida-Lockett, recognised the pressure put upon social services but said the multi-million pound deficit was the result of several years of mismanagement from the Lib-Lab administration.

"Social services have to deal with all the new initiatives from the Government but they don't get sent the cheques," she said.

"I think in the last 12 months the administration have taken more of an interest in the budget but they have been complacent for years.

"Every time we complained they kept telling us it was all very well when we knew it wasn't."

She also claimed that it was not until Conservative councillors put forward a motion for the council to contact Central Government directly to highlight the problem in social services that something was done and more money was received.

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