Lancashire County Council will have to “catch up” on savings targets that have been missed due to pressures from the pandemic, its new deputy chief has warned.
Alan Vincent, who is also a Resource Fellow at County Hall, was speaking at a cabinet meeting where it emerged the authority would try to achieve nearly £ 43million in savings by the end of the current year.
County Council was unable to achieve the £ 30million spending cut it planned last year – and instead used some of the Covid grant money received from central government to cover the costs of delayed delivery of savings.
However, this one-time fix means the money will now have to be found on a recurring basis – with a target of £ 12.6million already set for 2021/22.
County Cllr Vincent said the continued impact of the pandemic would make this challenge “even more difficult.”
“We have qualified officers and a good workforce and we will do everything we can to make sure that these savings are actually made in the current year – but I will not give any guarantees, as it is going to be difficult. “, he warned.
He also suggested the authority would resist any attempt by the government to punish it for what he said was its financial stability and prudence, after County Hall’s reserves rose by more than £ 42million to nearly £ 202million.
“They shouldn’t be watching [our] reserve and saying, “You seem to cover yourself up, so we won’t give you as much as we could give to others.” If we are penalized for saving money when others have spent it, that would be ridiculous.
The increase in reserves is due to a combination of a £ 19million under-spending in the council budget last year and the transfer of public funds set aside for future income volatility due to the pandemic.
However, £ 33million of the backstop cash flow is already committed over the next three years – and the council still has an underlying structural deficit of £ 50million by 2023/24, which, according to a cabinet report, will lead to “significant increases in commitments”. reserves.
Leader of the Labor opposition group, Azhar Ali, said councils typically face the fallout from times of heavy government spending – like the one brought on by the pandemic.
“That the local government will get additional funds this coming year … to support social services for adults and services for children, or if there is some kind of clawback and that money dries up.” [remains to be seen].
“And that [would] have a significant impact on reserves and how the council operates – so it’s going to be a tough year, ”Cllr Ali County said.
The cabinet report found that there were still uncertainties about the long-term impact of the pandemic on adult services, which account for 43% of the authority’s annual spending. Although the department achieved an under-spending of £ 15.8million last year, this was only the result of an injection of £ 31million in cash from government grants.
Demand for home care has increased due to the Covid crisis as alternatives to residential care have been sought – resulting in a £ 2million overrun in this element of the service.
Occupancy in County Council nursing homes fell from 600 before the pandemic to around 470, resulting in a loss of income of over £ 1.9million – as did reliance on staff from the agency has increased to cover sickness, self-isolation and shielding, causing a £ 1.7million overrun on the payroll.
Day services, initially closed during the first lockdown, also suffered a loss of revenue of around £ 540,000.
Meanwhile, the demand for home care for people with learning disabilities or autism has increased by 11%.
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