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Derbyshire council says ‘cost-control’ helped reduce 2023/24’s forecast £46.4m budget deficit by over half

Derbyshire County Council has revealed how dramatic cost-control measures have helped to reduce an estimated £46.4m budget overspend forecast for the 2023-24 financial year by more than half with the remaining shortfall to be met from the council’s financial reserves.

The Conservative-controlled council claims the forecast revenue overspend was due to external forces beyond its control which are still affecting the authority’s budget, including higher than anticipated inflation, higher fuel, energy and material costs and an increasing demand for services, particularly in adults’ and children’s social care.

But the council’s Cabinet is due to consider a report on July 10 which reveals how the council has reduced its forecast revenue overspend by £24.7m which is more than half the original deficit forecast for 2023-24 of £46.4m that was first reported last September.

Derbyshire County Council Managing Director Emma Alexander said: “All services have worked incredibly hard to ensure the strict cost-control measures were followed and the use of every pound was and continues to be scrutinised.

“While the final overspend for 2023-24 of £21.7m is an improved position from earlier in the financial year, this has still resulted in a significant additional use of reserves which, if we are to keep the level of reserves at a safe level we cannot afford to happen this year or in subsequent years.”

The report outlines how a combination of strict cost-control measures, additional income and grant funding, departmental savings and use of reserves has resulted in an improvement of £24.7m on the overspend sum originally forecast and the final end-of-year revenue overspend of £21.7m for 2023/24 is to be met from reserves.

During efforts to balance the 2023-24 estimated budget deficit, the council imposed cost-control measures in September.

These included: Freezing recruitment except for essential jobs, and reducing the use of agency staff; Reducing overtime: Reducing non-essential travel and training: Reducing print, IT equipment and stationery spending; Only carrying out health and safety repairs on properties; And where expenditure was non-essential, ceasing or delaying procurement for supplies and services and postponing projects still in the planning stage.

The council also claims its 2023/24 pay award for staff, which is agreed at a national level but funded at a local level, had also added to the financial pressure.

Senior council officials, who have welcomed the overspend budget reduction, have still warned that the challenges affecting the authority and councils across the country have not gone away.

And after the council also laid down further saving proposals, in February, as part of efforts to also balance an estimated deficit of around £40m for the current 2024-25 financial year, opposition Labour Group Leader Joan Dixon accused the authority of placing the council on the edge of bankruptcy.

As part of the 2024/25 budget proposals, the council has already decided to close ten children’s centres with over 100 potential job cuts and the ‘disestablishment’ of its Early Help Service with the introduction of a new Family Help service to achieve a £3.9m savings target.

It is also considering the future of eleven residential homes and eight day opportunity services for elderly people after identifying potential savings of over £5.2m with possible care home closures, and over £1.3m with possible day centre closures.

The council has also been considering redesigning how it provides Day Opportunity centres and Short Break residential units for adults with learning disabilities and or autism which some fear could result in some support services and centres being discontinued and closed.    

In addition, the council is introducing cost-saving efficiency changes at its nine household waste recycling centres including reduced opening hours, new charges to dispose of tyres and asbestos, and a trial scheme to allow small businesses to pay to use two of the centres.

Derbyshire County Council stated the saving proposals for 2024/25 – some of which have already been agreed and others are still being consulted on – remained necessary due to a predicted funding gap for 2024-25 of around £40m when the budget for the current financial year was approved.

Ms Alexander said: “The pressures remain as we continue to face significant inflationary cost pressures across all services, combined with continued growth in demand for adult care services, children’s social care and education, and increasing reactive and planned maintenance requirements across our highways infrastructure.

“We believe however that we have a solid plan in place and that the budget savings proposals we set out in February should help us to close the budget gap we have over the period of our Five-Year Financial Plan up to 2028-29.”

The council report also states that while addressing significant budget pressures, `good’ or `strong’ progress has been made in 82per cent of the 45 key areas set out in the Council Plan.

Ms Alexander added: “We are pleased to report the very positive progress that has been made in so many key areas set out in our Council Plan.

“Delivering good and improving services supports our overall efficiency and effectiveness and remains a key part of managing the financial challenges which continue to impact on the council.”

The council has stated that like many authorities it has been struggling due to reduced Government funding, the financial impact from the Covid-19 pandemic, high inflation rates, rising costs, the cost of living crisis, and a growing demand on services.

Key areas in the Council Plan include: Safeguarding children; Good or better schools; Learning disabilities; An integrated care system; Health and well-being advice; The bus service improvement plan; Managing the council’s buildings/property assets; The carbon reduction plan; The digital strategy; The local nature recovery strategy; And thriving communities.

The budget saving proposals which were identified for 2024-25 include: Redesigning five short stay residential homes and four day centres for people with learning disabilities; Redesigning 16 council elderly residential care homes and ten day care centres; Redesigning council care arrangements within extra care settings for older people; Reviewing the delivery of children’s centres and reviewing the children’s services Early Help service; Changing policy for post-16 home to school transport; And reviewing residential short-break and support services for disabled children.  

Others include: Restricting or charging for waste disposal of tyres and asbestos and generating income by allowing small businesses to use centres for a fee; Modernising the way the council delivers its library and heritage services; Reviewing the usage and options for Derbyshire County Council’s County Hall offices; And ceasing the production of the Derbyshire Now magazine and reducing the council’s countryside grounds maintenance budget.


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