East Sussex County Council recorded an almost £27 million revenue underspend in the last financial year.
According to the final monitoring report of 2020/21, £15.1m related to Covid-19 general funding which has yet to be spent and will be carried forward to 2021/22 to meet the ongoing costs of the pandemic.
More than £99m of Covid funding has been received so far, and officers say the carry forward reflects the cashflow of when funding was provided and when the costs are incurred.
The remaining £11.8m was primarily in Adult Social Care where a £4m underspend was a result of ‘client deaths being in excess of normal modelling levels’.
This led to a reduction in planned spending on the community care budget and day services.
Meanwhile a £3.9m general contingency budget was not required and there was also a treasury management underspend of £2.7m due to no additional borrowing during the year.
Project slippage also led to a capital underspend.
According to an officers’ report:
The 2020/21 budget outturn position is exceptional, with neither the underspending on Covid-19 or business as usual being able to be relied upon in future years.
Until there is a longer term financial settlement for local government beyond the current one-year approach, the medium to long term financial outlook for the council remains very uncertain.ESCC, final monitoring report of 2020/21
The figures were discussed at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday (27th June), where several councillors asked if the underspends should have been used to support services on the front line.
Lib Dem John Ungar (Eastbourne – Old Town) pointed to the £854,000 of savings made in Adult Social Care in the past year. He asked:
Could we not have used these savings to enable more support to communities?Cllr Ungar
Officers explained the £854,000 savings had been made by reviewing support to working age adults and the meals in the community service.
Mark Stainton, Director of Adult Social Care, said that money had been diverted to support voluntary organisations throughout the pandemic and these would have been through Covid specific grants.
Co-Leader of the Labour’s Chris Collier (Peacehaven) added:
I think a lot of residents will be wondering why when they are going through some of the worst moments of their lives, why we are stashing millions while we are cutting hot meals in the community to save £480,000.Cllr Collier
Council Leader Keith Glazier (Con, Rye and Eastern Rother) was less than pleased with this statement, saying the Council could not have planned for the number of people who have died over the last 12 months during the pandemic. He added:
If we were to start budgeting on what might be, I’m afraid you will end up in the muddle you did when you were in government.Cllr Glazier
Bob Standley, Lead Member for Education and Inclusion, Special Educational Needs and Disability (Con, Wealden North East), felt the report showed the County Council ‘are delivering for our vulnerable members of society’.
Meanwhile Cllr Carl Maynard, Lead Member for Adult Social Care and Health (Con, Brede Valley and Marsham), praised the efforts of staff, volunteers and other partnership organisations in responding to the pandemic. He said:
The collegiate response has been so effective in making sure our response to Covid frankly has been money well spent and we will learn the lessons of that joint working.Cllr Maynard