Cabinet eager not to use reserves despite big forecast overspend in children’s services

Councillor Malcolm Longley is attempting to balance the books again at the county council
Councillor Malcolm Longley is attempting to balance the books again at the county council

The councillor in charge of balancing the books at the county council has said he will ‘strongly resist’ dipping back into its cash reserves this year.

Councillor Malcolm Longley says this is a year where the authority needs to be replenishing its back up funds, not using them to prop up services.

His comments came as the council’s cabinet discussed the early struggles in meetings its targeted £41.4million of savings for 2019-20. There is a projected shortfall of £7.4million, of which £5.8million comes from savings failing to be made in the children’s services which were recently rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted.

In previous financial years, the council had raided its reserves to help balance its budget, but prior to the intervention of the government, it had none left as a back-up option. However, special permission from Westminster last year allowed the council to use ring-fenced funds to wipe out its £35million deficit from 2018/19, and replenish its empty reserves for the current financial year to the tune of £20million. This helped allow the council to balance its books last year.

Councillor Longley is eager to leave that £20million reserve untouched and wants to add to it if possible. Speaking at the cabinet meeting this afternoon (August 13) at One Angel Square, he said: “Following our performance last year, which was outstanding, this should be a more straightforward year. We should be putting money into reserves, not taking more out.”

Referring to the currently projected overspend, Councillor Longley believed that there was plenty of time left to mitigate this. But he did say: “It will be a bumpy ride. My view is that we have to square this all off at the turn of the year, otherwise we will have a problem.”

Council leader Matt Golby added: “The message coming from the cabinet is that of course we want to improve children’s services, but we have to also be mindful of the budget for other services.

“We’re mindful of the pressures across the board. We want children’s services to improve but we need them to play their part. If we carry on like this we will be in a very difficult position in the second half of the year.”

Councillor Ian Morris, cabinet member for adult social care, added: “All our services are fragile. We’ve done a good job in adult social services, but we don’t want to see services looking at other services to prop them up. I’m confident they can control the pressures on their budget though.”