Increases to fees and charges may be brought forward to try to bring this year’s council spending back within budget.
Brighton and Hove City Council is on track to go £11.6 million over budget in the current financial year but councillors are aiming to balance the books.
Members of the council’s Policy and Resources Committee asked for a “list of actions” that each department was taking to bring its spending under control.
At the meeting at Hove Town Hall yesterday (Thursday 1 December), the council’s finance chief Nigel Manvell said that the challenges came from a weakened economy and higher costs.
Inflation had led to social care provider costs rocketing, with a staff pay increase of more than 4 per cent higher than budgeted for in February, and increased demand for emergency and temporary housing and homeless support.
Mr Manvell said: “When you add to that challenges around income – and there are shortfalls across a number of income budgets – it is perhaps surprising we are not seeing a bigger forecast overspend.
“You might expect it to be over £20 million at this stage. The reason this is not happening is due partly to a very significant level of vacancies experienced across every area of the council and a lot of those are due to recruitment challenges.
“There are also normal financial management actions being taken by frontline services and directorates to try to mitigate overspends as much as possible, which is why it is 11.6 million rather than a higher number.”
Labour co-leader councillor Carmen Appich called for the “list of actions”, bringing forward increases to fees and charges and potentially reducing concessionary bus fare payments to improve this year’s finances.
Councillor Appich criticised the government for making councils bid against each other for money towards “glitzy” capital schemes, often criticised as “vanity” projects, rather than supporting vital services.
She said: “There may be other proposals which could save substantial money or generate substantial income the officer team can bring forward to the next meeting to help claw back a significant amount.
“Any proposals which are potentially politically sensitive should be brought to committee or, if very urgent, at least discussed by a representative group of councillors to ensure we can achieve cross-party support.”
Last month, the council came under fire from parents with disabled children after clawing back anything more than six weeks of “surplus” direct payments for their care.
Labour councillor Daniel Yates said that the overspending should not be pushed forward to future years, as occurred in his first year on the council when Labour took over from the previous Green administration in 2015.
The new council had to find £6 million in cuts and savings. He said: “It’s a doomsday scenario as far as I can see. I don’t think I’ve known anything worse since I’ve been a councillor. It has got worse each year.”
Conservative councillor Alistair McNair said other nations were struggling with inflation and the budget “woes” were down to decisions by the Greens and the previous “short-lived” Labour administration.
He cited the cost of bringing housing repairs “in-house”, going £1.3 million over budget, as well as the £2.2 million cost of resolving industrial action, the backlog of 10,000 housing repairs and more than 150 empty council homes.
Councillor McNair also highlighted the £800,000 lost in parking revenue from changes to Madeira Drive.
Green councillor Hannah Allbrooke said that his comments were “rubbish” as the council had to make £200 million in savings cumulatively over the past 12 years due to government underfunding.
Councillor Allbrooke said: “The A259 cycle lane was funded by your government as part of the active travel fund. I’d like to know which way you are today. Do you care about active travel or do you not care about active travel? On parking revenue, it shows policy priorities are working.”
The report on actions to improve this year’s spending position are due to go before the council’s Policy and Resources Committee on Thursday 19 January.
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