Cumbria council saves £31 million in a year

Date: Friday 15th March 2019

CUMBRIA County Council has managed to save £31 million from its budget during the last year, a new report has revealed.

The council set a target to save £35.5 million during 2018-19 and expects to have saved £31.4 million when the financial year ends on 31st March.

That leaves a £3 million shortfall, which will be carried over and found during the 2019-20 financial year starting on 1st April.

The council expects to “break even” despite some large overspends, which have been offset by underspends in other departments.

A report to go before the council’s cabinet in Kendal on Thursday says: “The financial context for the council is extremely challenging — 2018-19 represented the ninth financial year of significant funding reductions from central government. Since 2011-12, the council has agreed a total of £249 million of savings.”

The report says the financial situation remains “challenging”. The biggest overspend has been within children and families services, which deals with looked after children, or children in the care of the county council. Latest figures to the end of December showed it was £12 million over budget.

The service has run into the red because of soaring costs in placing looked after children. The council had 680 children under its wing at the end of December.

The report says: “Over the same period, the average weekly cost per placement rose from £979 per week to £1,078 per week.”

County council leader Stewart Young praised the turnaround in children services, which in January, 2017, was found to require improvement following an Ofsted inspection. That led to Department for Education staff working closely with the council for months.

Government involvement has now come to an end, with officials writing to the council recently to praise the department’s “strong and committed leadership” and “clear vision”.

Mr Young (Lab, Upperby) said: “The whole improvement journey in children’s services has been a cross-party effort. Several members of the council have put the politics aside to work for the children.”

He hailed the work of long-standing cabinet member for children’s services Anne Burns, the Labour councillor for Hindpool, Barrow.

“She stuck with this role for a number of years through some very difficult challenges. At one point she offered me her resignation, which I didn’t accept. I believed Anne was the right person to turn this situation around and get the department back on track and that has proved to be the case,” added Mr Young.