County council misses its saving targets - as it looks to make £53m in cuts by 2022

Savings targets
Savings targets

The county council’s head of finance says that if Derbyshire has another bad winter the highways department would not be able to respond in the way it did earlier this year.

At a Derbyshire County Council cabinet meeting on Thursday it was also revealed that although the authority had underspent by £26 million, it is behind in its savings targets.

This target sees the authority needing to make £53 million in cuts by 2022.

Meanwhile, the authority has had to use millions from its reserves to keep afloat.

Around £22 million in funding cuts was the target last year and the county council missed this by roughly £3.7 million – £2.8 million of which fell in the highways department savings shortfall.

Another £12 million in cuts are being planned for this year.

However, it was claimed that the council has filled 45,000 potholes since the start of the year.

Peter Handford, the authority’s head of ICT and finance, said: “This will be the last year that there will be an underspend.

“We face a tough balance as an authority of resources versus our revenue budget.

“We have had to use £18 million from our reserves to ameliorate some of the pressures, but the difficulty will be ongoing – I can’t under-emphasise that at all.

“We need to be on our targets.

“We have mended 45,000 potholes since the beginning of the year but if it [another strong winter] happens again it will be difficult to handle it in the same way.”

The failure to make last year’s targets is largely due to the severe winter which battered Derbyshire for several months – seeing the council’s highways department to spend more on rolling out gritting and pothole maintenance teams for considerably longer than usual.

Funding for winter maintenance was overspent by £2.3 million.

The authority raised council tax this year by 4.99 per cent in a bid to bring in much-needed revenue – around £80 extra a year from the average homeowner – and is aiming to implement the same increase in 2019.

Meanwhile, the council is reaffirming a plan to freeze council tax – with no increase – in both 2020 and 2021, despite missed savings targets and the requirement to use reserves to set a balanced budget.

Mr Hanford’s audit report states: “Lead-in times for consultation activity and increased demand on services  such as children’s services and adult care demographics, mean that there is a continued risk of not achieving a balanced budget.

“Delays in agreeing proposals could result in overspends by departments, which would then deplete the level of general reserve held by the council, decreasing its ability to meet short term, unforeseeable expenditure.

“There is a planned use of general and earmarked reserves from 2018-19 to 2020-21 in order to achieve a balanced budget.”

The general reserve currently stands at £65 million, with around £11 million set to be spent this year.

Meanwhile, although £68 million has been transferred into the earmarked reserves over the past year, £83 million has been paid out – a difference of £15 million.