County council approves measures to reduce £46 million budget gap

A county council has approved a raft of cost control measures in an effort to plug a £46 million budget gap.

Derbyshire County Council said earlier this month that measures would need to be taken to reduce its spending after previously using millions of pounds of its reserves to balance its books.

The new measures include postponing new projects and delaying the signing of new contracts, reducing overtime and freezing recruitment.

They were approved at a meeting of the council’s cabinet on Thursday, but the council’s leader, Councillor Barry Lewis, said the authority was “far from” bankruptcy.

He said: “We are taking immediate action to control our spending.

“This is not a bankruptcy situation for this council, far from it. However, to be completely clear with our residents, employees and partners, this is a difficult situation and we must rise to the challenge.

“We have always been a well-managed, efficient and financially stable council which has balanced our books, maintained a robust level of reserves and been able to support vital, high quality, value-for-money services for our residents across Derbyshire.

“However, the reality is that the financial pressures we are facing, along with other councils and households, are now greater than ever experienced before, with most of these pressures being simply outside our control.

“The decision taken today by Cabinet is the first step on our journey to get our finances back on the right track.

“Our employees are now tasked with looking at every penny they spend, to make sure it is essential and value for money.”

Other measures taken by the council include stopping “non-essential” conferences, travel and training, only conducting repairs on council properties if they are needed for health and safety reasons and reducing the amount spent on equipment.

It is expected that the measures will reduce the forecasted overspend, which came despite a total of almost £85m of council reserves being used to balance its budget in the current and last financial years.

The council previously blamed external forces, such as high inflation, high demand for services and the nationally set pay award, for the budget gap.

It said: “Across the country, many councils are experiencing similar issues, many of which are much more severe than at Derbyshire.

“Derbyshire’s proposed approach is to take early action, show prudent financial management, and to contain these external pressures and avoid more serious future consequences.”