West Sussex County Council forecasting overspend for current year’s budget

West Sussex County Council has forecast an overspend of £3.775m on this year’s budget.

County Hall Chichester. Pic S Robards SR2105051 SUS-210505-160448001
County Hall Chichester. Pic S Robards SR2105051 SUS-210505-160448001

A report to a council scrutiny committee laid out the financial position as of the end of June – the end of the first quarter – with councillors being told that ‘uncertainty is still our theme word’.

The bulk of the problem came from the Children & Young People portfolio and the Learning & Skills portfolio, which showed £3.1m and £1.92m projected overspends respectively.

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Jeremy Hunt, cabinet member for finance, said: “Obviously the team are working hard to contain this expenditure but the cost pressures just keep rising.

“We’re not alone in facing these pressures – many other authorities are in a similar position – but that doesn’t mean we should not continue to try and address this continuing overspend.”

The main issues for the children’s portfolio have been the cost of school places for youngsters with special needs, the cost of supporting vulnerable children and their families, and the cost of finding a variety of school places for children in the council’s care.

Mr Hunt called on the children’s services scrutiny committee to work with cabinet members and officers to ‘try and get a grip on these costs’.

The cost of home to school transport for children with special needs was one of the areas placing pressure on the Learning & Skills budget.

As for adults services, Mr Hunt said: “The demands on our adult services are still rising but, thanks to Covid grant funding and the reserve we set aside at the end of last year, the service are predicting a balanced budget at the end year end.

“Nonetheless, the underlying pressures are still there.”

The council’s savings target for 2021/22, across all portfolios, is £18.5m, with a further £3.1m of savings from 2020/21 still to be delivered.

A report to the committee said more than half of those savings targets were either red or amber – unlikely to be met or at risk.

Katharine Eberhart, director of finance, said: “Uncertainty is still our theme word. We are less certain than in pre-pandemic times on how our year is going to unfold.

“It has been very difficult last year during the pandemic to progress the work required to deliver the planned savings and efficiencies and, while this year is less pressured, we are still [spending] energy on projects that were not anticipated when we started the year.

“We will continue to be tracking that as we go through the year to ensure that we understand if we are facing a gap.”