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Latest county council overspend revealed

PUBLISHED: 16:30 31 October 2018

Latest overspend forecasts for 2018/19 at Suffolk County Council are at £7.5m Picture: ARCHANT

Latest overspend forecasts for 2018/19 at Suffolk County Council are at £7.5m Picture: ARCHANT

Fresh concerns have been raised over Suffolk County Council’s overspend, as opposition groups warn it is struggling to stay afloat.

Councillor Richard Smith, cabinet member for finances, said he was conscious more needed to be done Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL/SIMON LEECouncillor Richard Smith, cabinet member for finances, said he was conscious more needed to be done Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL/SIMON LEE

A report published in September with figures for the first quarter revealed the authority was on course for an £8.6million overspend by the end of the year – and warned that no area will be immune from cutbacks.

In an update published this week ahead of the next cabinet meeting, the predicted overspend is now looking more like £7.5m – a reduction of £1.1m.

Richard Smith, Conservative cabinet member for finance and assets, said: “It is positive to see the extent to which we have addressed the council’s current level of forecast overspend, however I am still very mindful of the task we have in hand to end this financial year on budget.

“The reduction in forecast overspend at this point is testament to the focus and determination of staff across the organisation to look at every area of service delivery and use their experience and initiative to close the gap.

Green councillor Andrew Stringer questioned where the savings were being made Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCILGreen councillor Andrew Stringer questioned where the savings were being made Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

“There are real cost pressures in a number of services, particularly for the care of vulnerable adults and children where we have seen a continued increase in demand year-on-year.

“We are working very hard to end this year on budget or as close as is reasonably possible.

“We continue to learn the lessons from Northamptonshire and their inability to manage the financial pressures and I am thankful that as a result of our careful prudent financial management in recent years, we are not yet at that point in Suffolk, but we must remain focused as we have to identify yet more savings in the next financial year with some very tough calls to make.”

Children’s services is facing the biggest overspend at £4.9m – at least £2m of which is because of increasing demand for special school places, according to the council’s report.

Labour group leader Sarah Adams said the council was struggling to stay afloat Picture: GREGG BROWNLabour group leader Sarah Adams said the council was struggling to stay afloat Picture: GREGG BROWN

Mr Smith has already warned that next year’s budget will feature £25m in cutbacks, although it is not yet clear where these will come from.

Unallocated reserves currently stand at around £51m, according to the data.

Labour reaction

Sarah Adams, leader of the opposition Labour group, said: “Suffolk is paying for years of Conservative economic incompetence with ideology trumping sound financial decision.

“Cllr Smith and his colleagues were desperate for a life jacket from the Chancellor’s budget but none was forthcoming and now the council will now struggle to stay afloat.

“Our services are already cut to the bone but taxpayers will be subjected to the highest tax rises possible next year – we are paying more and more but getting less and less.

“Who will suffer the consequences of this? It won’t be the Tory councillors who keep repeating the same mistake time and again, it’ll be Suffolk’s residents, especially the most vulnerable in our society, who keep having to pick up the pieces.

“The current agenda of blindly salami-slicing services has not worked and we need an urgent change in direction to deliver a new plan that will protect jobs and services, invest in our county and stimulate growth.”

Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent reaction

Andrew Stringer, joint leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, said: “A reduction in our overspend obviously sounds good – but we need to ask how these ‘savings’ are being made, and what services are being cut?

“Scrabbling to find more and more savings, and cutting away at our services bit by bit, will only harm the most vulnerable in our county.

“The timing of this announcement is also completely ironic. On Monday the Conservative Chancellor gave his budget speech, which once again failed to properly support local councils and only promised one-off pots of money.

“That may bring some councils back from the brink of disaster, but what we desperately need is a long-term, sustainable funding solution.

“By focusing on ‘savings’ at Suffolk County Council again, Councillor Smith has simply handed his government a political fig leaf to hide their shameful lack of support for local councils.

“He should be demanding sustainable levels of funding for Suffolk. It would appear our councils are being manipulated to do central government’s bidding. This is wrong.”

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