Calderdale Council is still seeking savings to ensure it can balance its books by the financial year’s end in April, and identify savings in years going forward.
Cabinet will soon receive a third and final budget monitoring report for the year which will outline the council’s financial situation – an overspend of £2.8 million was still anticipated in the second report it received in the autumn and was examined by the council’s Strategy and Performance Scrutiny Board for comment in December.
The council’s Director Head of Finance, Nigel Broadbent, outlined the position to councillors, with the biggest overspend – of £2.1 million following the use of £1.4 million from reserves – being in children’s services, which the council has a legal as well as moral duty to provide.
An overspend of £6.6 million was expected but management action had identified £3.8 million of savings to reduce the total to £2.8 million.
The report to Cabinet this month (January 2019) will be about how the council can deal with pressures on a sustainable basis going forward.
Drawing further on reserves would not be a sustainable option going ahead.
Coun Jane Scullion (Lab, Luddenden Foot), council Cabinet member for Resources, Performance and Business Change, said: “The report makes clear the majority of pressures are with children’s social care. As you will realise these are a spend that is driven by demand – we have to manage those services for some of the most vulnerable people in our community,” she said.
Coun Jenny Lynn (Lab, Park) asked questions about having to use agency staff particularly for legal services in the areas of child protection and adult social care and about money the council should realise from New Homes Bonus for building new housing and for developing neighbourhood plans.
Officers advised that a number of recruitment drives for childcare and adults solicitors had not been successful in attracting any suitable candidates to apply.
Other councils were in the same position.
New home schemes were in the pipeline but cash could not be realised yet.
Conservative group leader Coun Scott Benton (Brighouse) asked what assurances could be given to residents of the borough that the council could return a balanced budget, bearing in mind there had been a 2.5 per cent rise in Council Tax. It appeared a £6.6 million deficit (before savings were identified) would mean a very large Council Tax rise next year.
Coun Scullion said: “we will and can reach a balanced budget” and said, for example, recruitment of 12 new foster carers by January coupled with assessments being done in house would save money – these had previously been expensively outsourced.
Regarding next year’s Council Tax, it was up to each of the political groups to draw up their own proposals for the budget due to be decided in February.
Councils were also waiting to hear what settlement they were going to get from Government.
Committee chair Coun Paul Bellenger (Lib Dem, Greetland and Stainland) raised issues about ongoing litigation with contractors and what impact these cases would have on finances, whatever settlements were reached.
Officers advised that they had considered the range of scenarios in this regard.
Coun Bellenger and Coun Lynn both praised the councils officers and their staff who were doing more with less. Coun Bellenger said: “I am sure we can get through this.”