Work underway to tackle financial challenge

The County Council is taking the steps needed to live within its means, councillors heard this morning.

Discussing a report from its external auditor, the authority’s Audit Committee was told that work is already underway to bring down overspending in the face of the financial challenges facing local government.

The Audit Findings Report praises the Council’s Statement of Accounts but gives the authority an overall ‘adverse’ rating for Value for Money – highlighting overspending within Children’s Services, difficulties in achieving savings and low levels of reserves. The auditor says that further efforts are needed to ensure that budgets are delivered, with close in-year monitoring and timely corrective actions.

Speaking after the meeting, Cabinet member for Resources, Councillor Mandy Chilcott, said: “In many ways this reinforces what we knew. We had identified the challenge ourselves and are already taking the kind of steps that the auditor has highlighted.

“It refers to action being needed, and action has been taken – we are already making better progress at delivering savings compared to last year.

“We are doing what needs to be done, but let’s be absolutely clear that our finances are under really significant pressures and there will be difficult decisions ahead.

“We have the skills and experience to manage our finances, over the last seven years or so we have made around £130m of savings and efficiencies – while at the same time seeing improvements in key areas of performance like children’s and adult services.

“But you cannot effectively lose around a third of your budget without there being impacts, though we will do everything we can to keep those impacts to a minimum.”

All local authorities have been hit by falling funding in recent years, but top-tier councils with responsibility for children’s and adults’ services have been worst affected as demands for these ‘needs driven’ services increase. Two thirds of the Council’s budget goes on these services.

Earlier this year the National Audit Office’s own figures highlight a 49 per cent real term drop in central government funding for local authorities since 2010/11.

In May, the Council’s Chief Executive told Full Council that achieving financial sustainability is the number one operational priority of the council. The authority has to live within its means.

The Council’s Senior Management Team is meeting weekly focussed entirely on reducing overspends and delivering savings. The Local Government Association is also supporting the authority in looking at its Children’s services and how it can improve outcomes while making sure it’s getting value for money.