Published: 19:55, 18 September 2017
Kent County Council has played down an £18 million overspend in its budget despite a warning from finance chiefs that bringing it under control will impact services.
County finance chiefs say that its budget for 2017-18 is in the red to the tune of £18.855m - although that has been cut down to £10m through management action.
A report on the state of the authority’s finances warns traditional ways of saving money such as cutting staff“are severely eroded” -and that “managing the pressure down will not be easy.”
It states: “After years of grant cuts leading to budget savings, the historic routes to in-year savings are severely eroded.
"Discretionary budgets…. have been all but removed. The consequence is that any in-year action will almost certainly impact on service levels and or quality.
“In 2017-18, we have £73m of savings to deliver and to achieve this we need to urgently identify options to eliminate the residual £11m forecast pressure.”
Cllr John Simmonds, KCC cabinet member for finance, said he expected the authority to bring down the overspend.
“It [18m] is about where we were this time last year and the reality is that it gets harder and harder each year but we have always managed to balance the books.
"It is more difficult but it is as much about how we deliver it rather than cutting services - transformation is a big part of it,” he said
Like many other councils, KCC has moved to outsourcing many of its services to try and save money.
The overspend is being blamed on continuing pressure on the costs associated with asylum seekers - particularly young children - which accounts for £3.9m - and the rise in demand for services for the elderly - which accounts for £7.8m.
But Cllr Simmonds said there had also been an unexpected rise in the number of people with learning difficulties needing support.
And he said the authority was under pressure because it would have to save a further £73m next year - on top of the £73m savings needed this year.
He took a sideswipe at the government over its austerity programme which has hit all councils, saying: ”We are told austerity is a dirty word….we will have to see.”
The growing pressure on the budget for young asylum children is because the Home Office pays less money once they reach the age of 16 - even though the support they need often remains the same.
A further £1.2m is being spent on recruiting agency social workers to fill vacancies to deal with an increase in the number of vulnerable children being referred to the authority.
Finance chiefs say, however, that the savings to rein in the overspend should not be assumed to “be in the bag” - suggesting they have yet to be delivered.
More by this authorPaul Francis