Suffolk: County council attacked over £3.8m underspend

Should we raid council reserves?

Should we raid council reserves? - Credit: PA

A leading Suffolk County Council (SCC) cabinet member last night rejected claims savings are being favoured over services after it emerged the council underspent by £3.8m last year.

Opposition leaders have rounded on cabinet chiefs, insisting the funds should have been spent on education, roads and elderly services rather than being “sat in the bank”.

But Colin Noble, SCC’s cabinet member for finance and property, accused his critics of “failing to wake up” to financial pressures, arguing the council had delivered on its budget.

SCC was allotted £466.916m for 2012/13 following a planned saving of £26.190m. Yesterday it was revealed the underspend figure stood at £3.855m, a sum which included the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG).

But Labour shadow spokesman for finance and property, Len Jacklin, last night said he was concerned the Tory-led council was prioritising savings to the detriment of important services.

“I am disappointed that, at a time when essential services are being slashed such as funding to keep our youth clubs open, our elderly in the quality care homes that we need and when our roads are crumbling beneath us, the Conservative administration see fit to brag about squirreling money away,” he said.

“For many years they have taken pride in reducing these resources whilst locking funding away in the reserves. Our overstretched officers and staff are being asked to serve our county with fewer and fewer resources.”

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Liberal Democrat leader David Wood said that while he applauded the savings, more money could have been spent on education – instead of being “sat in the bank”.

“They could have put the money in to the Raising the Bar initiative far earlier which would have improved attainment. The education system has suffered,” he added.

Mark Ereira, leader of the Green party, said the extra expenditure could have haemorrhaged the flow of youth clubs closing and improved road conditions.

“More and more cuts seems to be their only mantra. I don’t know why they’re so proud of this – it’s Draconian,” he added.

But Mr Noble said: “We set a budget and we have delivered. This demonstrates the council has applied good financial management to both keep spending within a significantly reduced budget and deliver an underspend.

“I think other parties have not woken up or need to accept a lot of money has to be saved – a total of £156m over the next four years in fact.”

Councillors will discuss the spending figures, set out in the annual outturn report for revenue and capital, next Tuesday.