Published: 06:00, 13 February 2020
A spending freeze issued across council departments has shaved more than £4 million off the budget.
But Medway Council still expects to overspend its £298m budget by £2.5m this year.
Finance bosses issued a moratorium – a temporary stop – on all “non-essential spending” throughout the cash-strapped authority last year, saving money on “staffing, services and supplies”.
Exact details of how every pound will be saved have not been published by the council.
But it says “management action” of £1.56m has reduced the council’s spending, added to the “imposition of the moratorium”.
Cuts are anticipated across all departments including in the education department totalling £436,000. Another £388,000 has been reduced from street sweeping and garden waste disposals.
Documents also show closing car parks will lead to money being saved on security, staff and paying business rates.
Papers reveal £225,000 has been saved by cancelling “the final phase of the annual highway carriageway patching” on roads throughout the Towns.
Deputy leader Cllr Howard Doe (Con) said the £4m in cuts had come about after “applying some stringent management action”.
“We have to do the final bit to get the books to balance.
“It makes me fairly confident we will be able to get the books to balance by the end of the year, provided stringent measures are continued.
“We’ve weathered quite a financial storm.”
Cllr Doe said this was largely due to “additional investments” required to be made in the children’s services budgets.
He recognised “sacrifices had to be made” by directors, officers and his cabinet colleagues to ensure the budgets were kept under “tight control”.
Councillors took aim at central government, criticising Westminster for “underfunding” and “disinvestment” in many areas in recent years.
Cllr Adrian Gulvin (Con) spoke about increasing pressures on special education needs funding, which is £10m over budget in the past two years.
He said: “I think it’s been significantly underfunded by central government and it’s not just this authority. The government needs to recognise the demographic pressure caused by so many young people who quite rightly deserve the best care and to be looked after.
“But that comes with a cost and that is putting severe pressures on budgets.
“We need to pressure the government.”
His comments were echoed by Cllr David Brake (Con) adding the government needed to give councils greater “flexibility” to help continue to deliver services.
He said: “Directors and officers have been supportive of what’s been set from on high but we need to set a complete balanced budget.
“There are so many cases where it involves directly an impact on people and communities.
"We need to pressure the government"
“The truth is if somebody presents themselves to this council and there’s a need for special care and attention, it’s our duty that it’s provided.
“Somehow at the end of the day it will be done and will come within the budget.”
Cllr Phil Filmer (Con) recognised it had been “very challenging to carry on the standard” for frontline services in the past 12 months.
He added “smart working” had managed to balance the budget and cited the waste service link-up with Medway Norse to “maintain a weekly collection” as an example.
A report presented to cabinet members last week shows savings have been made in every directorate since November.
The council was expecting to overspend by £6.7m at the last review which has now been reduced to £2.5m.
Regeneration, culture, environment and transformation took the biggest hit as £2m was cleared taking the department’s overall underspend for the 2019/20 financial year to £671,000.
Children and adult services – which will still come in £4.6m over budget – has seen £1.2m cut from its coffers.
Meanwhile the business support department – including the finance team, democracy services and legal staff – saw £773,000 reduced in the final quarter to bring it £383,000 under budget for the year.
But the council is expecting to spend £1m less on its interest payments in 2019/20 thanks to “lower than budgeted interest costs” against money the authority has borrowed.
One-off spending on projects throughout Medway is expected to be £24.5m less than originally expected.
The majority is due to a new special needs school in Gillingham, which is now due to open as a free school funded by the government.
"It makes me fairly confident we will be able to get the books to balance by the end of the year, provided stringent measures are continued."
Council papers say the authority’s budget set aside to fund building the new school in Cornwallis Road by expanding the Inspire Free School “would not be needed for this purpose”.
The council also stated it had £7.7m left over from the budget to purchase the Pentagon Centre in Chatham, with £3m transferred over to buy out adjoining Mountbatten House.
The remaining £4.9m has been agreed to fund future works at the Pentagon Centre.
More by this authorMatt Leclere