Council eyes one-off projects after budget review

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East Sussex County Council will look to make a series of one-off investments in local infrastructure and climate change, cabinet members have said.

The Council’s Cabinet has spoken about plans to put aside £8.8m for a number of as-yet-unspecified investments into ‘highways, infrastructure and climate change’ projects.

The Council says the funding comes as it looks again at is financial planning for 2021/22 in light of the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. This includes the effect of ‘excess deaths’ on the council’s adult social care modelling and covid funding being carried over from last year.

Details of the projects are expected to come forward in the Autumn, the Council has said.

While the potential for investment was broadly welcomed, opposition councillors made arguments about where they thought the money could be best spent.

Cllr Colin Swansborough, the Liberal Democrat group’s finance spokesman argued that the Council should look again at spending proposals made by his group at the last budget meeting in February.

These proposals included spending for children’s mental health and schools, as well as resilience funding for business and community hubs.

The difference is we appear now to have the money. Not in the way we would have wanted to acquire the money, but we do have it.

I know you have your own list but I would like you to have a look at these and re-examine them, because I am sure there is a considerable amount of merit in all of them.

Cllr Colin Swansborough, Liberal Democrat

Meanwhile, Cllr Georgia Taylor, co-leader of the Council’s Green Party group, argued against any investment in increasing road capacity. She said the Council should instead look at environmental initiatives, including public transport.

However, these funding ideas were dampened by Cllr Nick Bennett, Conservative Cabinet member for Resources and Climate Change, who warned of restrictions on how the money could be spent.

We have been running effectively two budgets; the business as usual budget which has gone through our RPPR (Reconciling Policy, Performance and Resources) process right from the beginning and separate covid funding that has been set aside.

If we didn’t do that it would be impossible to maintain our RPPR processes because we wouldn’t have known what the inputs are. It would have clouded the issues.

The second reason is because our understanding of it … is that this is dedicated money for covid. It is therefore for particular purposes within the response to the pandemic.

There is not an expectation, but there is a possibility that it will be called back. There is also a strong possibility that we might need it.

Cllr Nick Bennett, Conservative Cabinet member for Resources and Climate Change

The plans come after the Council reported an almost £27million revenue underspend in the last financial year.

Around £15.1m of this underspend comes from the unspent Covid funding, with the remaining £11.8m largely attributed to service changes as a result of the pandemic.

This includes a £4m underspend in adult social care resulting from deaths “being in excess of normal modelled levels”.

The Council says the underspend has seen it review its financial planning for the coming year.

For example, the Adult Social Care service budget was originally set to increase by £3.4m for growth and demographic changes and by £1.2m for expected Covid related costs. These budget increases are no longer considered necessary, however.

Savings targets have also been reviewed, with a planned cut to children’s safeguarding having been abandoned.

Despite the underspend, the Council’s updated Medium Term Financial Plan actually predicts a worse deficit by 2024/25 than previously stated (£18.4m compared to £14.5m).

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