Council's end-of-year finance report says 'further action required' for long-term sustainability

Grimsby Town Hall, during Pride Month, June 2024
-Credit: (Image: LDR)

North East Lincolnshire Council achieved a balanced financial position in 2023/24, but "further action is still required" for long-term sustainability.

The council plan end of financial year performance report was accepted by the authority's cabinet earlier this month. It sets out the finances of the council, including challenges faced and progress made.

Progress in the council's children's services is noted. There is also detail on capital spending in the next year, including on Corporation Bridge, and data on Grimsby and Cleethorpes footfall.

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The report states delivering council plan priorities in 2023/24 was "challenging in terms of our capacity to support a number of large-scale projects". The most progress, however, has been made in children's services, though "there are still significant challenges". The Department for Education has recognised the council's ability to carry out its improvement plan for the service, by withdrawing its Lincolnshire sector led improvement partner (SLIP).

Children's safeguarding demand continued to reduce in the last quarter of the financial year. Further actions on staff structure changes, a renewed strategy to reduce high-cost external placements of children, and a new case management system are expected to deliver further savings.

There was, overall, a £4.1m overspend in council services, essentially caused by children and family services overspend. But "sustained improvements" to the children's service have already made a "positive impact" on council legal costs, because of less reliance on court proceedings. This saw £4.7m revenues spent on law and governance, £500,000 lower than expected.

"Despite the combined challenges of social care demand, a dynamic economic environment and pay and inflationary pressures, the council has been able to report a balanced financial position at year end," the report states. However, "further action is still required" to deliver longer-term financial sustainability. It states a range of priority actions are detailed within the 2024/25 council plan to bring spending to manageable levels on a recurrent basis.

Capital spending, longer-term investments in council and borough infrastructure, was underspent by £16.1m. This was because of revised phasings of works, that are "in many instances, complex and multi-faceted schemes".

"Challenges continuing to be faced with procurement, inflation pressures and capacity of the construction market," the report adds. Expected capital spending for projects this year also features. This includes £3.7m Towns Fund cash on Grimsby Central Library, and £17.6m for the Freshney Place leisure scheme, which got Levelling Up funding last year. There is also £524,000 earmarked for "Toll Bar drop off". This is for a new car park and drop-off area being created directly opposite the New Waltham secondary school.

A figure of £2.6m is indicated for Corporation Bridge this year. This is made up of £949,000 reprofiled, or transferred over, from expected 2023/24 spending. It is not clear if any of the remaining £1.6m is part of the as-yet undisclosed contingency funding the council's cabinet signed off in November.

This was done after the need for more repairs became apparent, and the council are yet to publicly disclose what was signed off because of commercial sensitivities. The original expected budget for the bridge's refurbishment was £4.9m. Elsewhere, the report states extra funding has been found to introducing a lighting scheme for the bridge, to be operational by the end of the refurbishment project.

Finally, there is also £72,000 for an audio-visual system at Grimsby Town Hall. This will help full council meetings to be broadcast.

Fly tipping in East Marsh, in April
Fly tipping in East Marsh, in April -Credit:Donna Clifford/GrimsbyLive

Empty homes, fly tipping and vacant town centre units

The report also contains council data on the likes of fly tipping, empty homes, and footfall in Grimsby and Cleethorpes. There were 2,055 fly tipping reports that involved removal from public land.

As of March, there were 794 properties that had been empty for two years or more, and almost 1,300 empty for between six months and two years. A targeted letter programme to those under two years set to face a council tax premium soon is planned.

Footfall last financial year was slightly down in Victoria Street, Grimsby, by two per cent, and four per cent along The Promenade, Cleethorpes. It was up in St Peter's Avenue in the resort town, by three per cent. The council also recorded that 16 per cent of town centre units had been vacant for six months or longer.