Council overspends due to ‘high needs’

Council overspends due to ‘high needs’
By Tony Earnshaw
Local Democracy Reporter

KIRKLEES COUNCIL expects to overspend by almost £5m on its £290m budget this year.

At the same time it has made £12.6m – equating to 78 per cent – of its planned £16.2m savings across the financial year.

Pressure on the budget has come from areas of ‘high needs’ – children and young people with special educational needs or disabilities.

Demand led to a £7.9m overspend on high needs, prompting the council to top up its budget with a £5m injection from its minimum revenue provision (MRP) budget, which is set aside for debt payments.

Releasing £5m leaves just under half of the original £9m pot remaining.

But the authority is looking to make savings elsewhere in order to hang on to the money.

In providing an update on the authority’s financial situation, the council’s finance director Eamonn Croston told the Corporate Scrutiny Panel that there was no “slack in the system”.

And he warned that cutbacks were still being sought. If successful the council can avoid releasing the balance of its MRP budget “to support the bottom line”. 

He said: “We are anticipating that services will continue to look at measures or means to try and bring down the overspend position.

“Strategic directors are actively looking at areas that they can reduce spend without obviously at the same time having an adverse effect on residents. We are exploring all those options.

“The position with council finances is tighter. Whereas perhaps in the past there may have been some slack in the system, somewhere that can mitigate some of that, I’m not sure that we can do that to the same extent.

“We haven’t got those spare pockets [of cash] that we can necessarily draw on.”

The council also expects to pick up £1.9m as its share of a £240m package of government funding to help ease winter pressures during 2018/19, and again in 2019/20.

In addition it will collect around £3m for social services as part of a separate £410m pot of government cash to be spent in 2019/20. It is hoped that the cash can be spent on children as well as adults.

The council is also considering “a slight amendment” to financial procedure rules to “flex” budgets across years, particularly around strategic priorities and factors outside the council’s control.

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