East Sussex County Council underspent on its revenue budget by £8million last year, according to figures discussed this week.
The authority’s Tory cabinet agreed on Tuesday (June 25) to transfer £3.4m to the financial management reserve and £4.6m to the capital programme.
Nick Bennett, lead member for resources, said: “It’s a positive position I hope you will agree to be able to present a budget underspend of £8million in the last financial year.”
A wide-ranging debate took place on the council’s monitoring report for the end of year 2018/19, raising topics such as road-traffic accidents and adult social care.
David Tutt, leader of the Lib Dem group, pointed out that the £3.4m was essentially ‘rainy day money’ held in contingency, while the £4.6m was due to ‘some windfalls’ in treasury management. He described them as one-offs, which could not be put in the base revenue budget.
Cllr Tutt added: “Let’s not send out a message we have £8million we can spend because there is not and we all know that if we are being honest.”
Fellow Lib Dem Philip Daniel described how his party at February 2018’s budget debate had argued for money to be put into adult social care and children’s services and he suggested the need for this had been demonstrated by £4.1m of overspends across the two departments in 2018/19.
He added: “There should be a change of direction in favour of these front-line services and when it’s feasible to make future savings in treasury management and business services.”
Another Lib Dem Alan Shuttleworth added: “Even this week we are talking about the county council closing two rural primary schools, we are talking about closing children’s centres, withdrawing preventative services from children and vulnerable families, withdrawing targeted help from some of the most vulnerable families around and significant cuts to key worker services.
“It’s not a good picture overall and this is just one snapshot and this is telling me how desperately we need the Government to get its act together and realise we need more money for local services.”
Keith Glazier, leader of the council, replied: “We need more resources from Government and we will continue to lobby for that.”
Roy Galley (Con, Maresfield and Buxted) suggested the ‘doom and gloom from certain quarters’ had been ‘overdone in the past’.
He responded to opposition members ‘wittering on about uncertainty’, adding: “The reason we have so much uncertainty at present is that the Remainers’ part of Parliament has refused to apply the will of the people and otherwise we would be getting on with all sorts of issues which are now stuck because we can’t get out of Europe and get on with our lives.”
He welcomed a 4.1 per cent reduction in the number of people Killed or Seriously Injured (KSI) on East Sussex’s roads in 2018, with a 19 per cent reduction in fatalities. There were 355 KSIs on the county’s roads last year, with 21 fatalities.
Bill Bentley, lead member for communities and safety, said KSIs were a challenge and ‘something we must continue to try to reduce’.
He highlighted the £1million investment from Public Health in a project to reduce KSIs in East Sussex, but it was not only about the structure of the roads but also about improving driver awareness and education, something that would take time to see significant change.
Godfrey Daniel, the Labour group’s co-leader, suggested the driving age was too low at 17. He explained: “To give a teenager a car which is a lethal weapon in some circumstances when they perhaps don’t have the personal maturity to drive safely worries me somewhat, but I’m a bit Dickensian in that.”
On Brexit Cllr Daniel warned Tory members against wanting the country to ‘walk over a cliff’.
Near the end of the meeting, Cllr Glazier concluded: “Anyone who can’t see the achievement of not just this administration but the staff that have worked so hard to deliver the targets we have set them in this report is not reading the same report as I am.”
He described being ‘deeply frustrated’ that the opposition parties ‘choose to make this a political standpoint where they can just do some cheap scoring’.